” He, who played by the rules, who was more intelligent and able than most, who wanted only a nice house in the suburbs with a family who loved him, an adequate income, an eventual senior partnership and position where he could hold his place in the world. This affliction and degradation he did not at all deserve. ” (149)
This book is uneven, schizophrenic, and dull. Simply put, the story is a man deteriorating in the technological dystopia that this world seems to increasingly resemble. Bill Chalmers, a successful financial analyst, is living a good, modern, American, consumer-obsessed life, suffers a sudden loss of memory one morning on his way to work. After he regains memory, his life doesn’t get any better. He has a creeping numbness and gradual paralysis. Doctors cannot nail down a diagnosis after a series of tests that yield inconclusive results.
Because he was now fearful that he might be dying. He was dying a far slower death than the death of his father, who had gone so easily, dead by the time he had slipped to the floor of that dark accounting office that smelled perpetually of wood glue. (260)
The quest for answer—a diagnosis, is watched and cruelly commented upon by his indifferent wife and nerdy son, neither any true support to him as he slowly loses his faith, hope, and sanity. Bill’s devastating ailment remains the core of this book throughout—but with no resolution. The novel is called The Diagnosis where none exists. His tragedy, however, is measured in material loss. There is little genuine connection with the man at the center of the mayhem.
The novel seems to be about the slow decline of our society, about how we are bludgeoned by fast-paced, vapid, unreflective techno-society. But Lightman neglects to give his character a soul—he basically just disintegrates without cause or reason. I am not sure what Lightman is trying to do with The Diagnosis, which is intriguing at first, then becomes tedious, arduous, and painful.
369 pp. Vintage Contemporaries. Paper. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]